Over on Never Say Diet, today’s post was ostensibly inspired by this new study about how loving your body will help you lose weight. Gah. So problematic. I know.
In fact, that post was also inspired by an email that I received over the weekend from reader Lauren.
Now let’s be crystal clear: I’m posting Lauren’s email here because I think she speaks some truth and lots of us can relate, and I thought the wonderful community that is Beauty Schooled might have some words of wisdom to share. You guys are crazy smart and have so many wise words. I am also pretty smart and have a few words (ahem, 1400 or so).
But! I say to any interweb lurkers out there — you’ve been warned. I’m going to be moderating comments super carefully on this post, because I do not want this to turn into a negative, unhelpful conversation that leads, as Lauren says “to tears and yucky feelings.” For her or anyone else.
And please, please everyone be aware that even with my scrutiny, there may be aspects of this post (my comments, other reader comments) that could be triggering. Use your judgment. Come back tomorrow, when I’ll be railing about sitcom marriage stereotypes (honest, I will!) with mirth and hilarity, if that sounds more like your cup of tea.
Otherwise, keep reading. Because here is Lauren:
Hi Virginia,My name is Lauren, I’m 28 and live in Melbourne, Australia.
First of all I would just like to say a HUGE thank you!! Your insights, honesty, humour, and challenging has had a huge impact on my life. I had treatment with a psychologist and dietitian a few years ago which definitely started my journey to a healthier relationship to food, my body and sense of self and I have been trying to keep working on that by myself ever since but your blog has 1) helped me feel less alone in that journey and 2) actually challenged a lot of my thinking that I realised I was still hanging onto, and thinking I didn’t even know I did!
But this is what I am struggling with – my current size (I want to say “weight” but I’m trying to reprogram myself so weight doesnt become the focus of attention and I haven’t weighed myself since early in the year so I don’t actually know what my weight is.)Anyway, the reality is I want to slim down. I’m not happy with my current size/shape. My clothes aren’t fitting so well and I feel a bit chunky. BUT I don’t want to diet, I dont want to punish myself with exercise (I have gotten to a place where I exercise to feel centered/energetic/empowered and I want to stay there!). And I also feel like even saying I want to slim down is undermining the work I have done to be OK with my body just how it is. While I feel like I have a much more realistic view of my body and can actually like parts of it (some days I really, really like my ass!) and it doesn’t affect my sense of self-worth like it used to, I would still like to slim down.I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out if its OK that I want to slim down just because I think I look better and then if so how to do that in a healthy, happy way. I know you have written about this in the past and its a difficult topic but I just wanted to flag that there is at least one reader who could use more of this, if possible!
And here are my thoughts, speaking not in any way as an expert/trained therapist/medical professional. Just as a girl who has also sort of been there. (Lauren and I have talked about this and we’re clear on the role I’m playing here – that caveat was for your benefit, dear readers.)
Yes. It is okay — morally, ethically, psychologically speaking — to want to slim down just because you think it looks better.
I did this in January and I still feel good about that choice. It wasn’t about hating my body at that size in the “being this size means I have no value and nobody will love me” sense. It was about admitting that yes, I was applying the thin beauty standard to my body and thinking I would be more attractive to myself if I lost some weight, goddammit. As much as I question beauty standards around here, I will never, ever deny anyone their right to subscribe to one. We get to pick and choose. At the same time that I was buying into the weight standard, I was breaking up with a whole bunch of other standards that I didn’t want to apply to myself anymore because they didn’t seem important or contribute to my overall happiness.
The weight standard felt important. I can’t totally articulate why, but it did. Even though I wasn’t connecting it to my self-worth. It was impacting my happiness in subtle and not so subtle ways.
So yes. It is okay to want to lose weight for aesthetic reasons. To say yup, I’m buying that beauty standard, keep the change, here we go.
But — and this is essential, people so I’m breaking out the italics! — that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Because in order to apply any beauty standard to yourself, you have to make judgments and assessments. Most likely, that means you’re going to find fault with your body and you’re going to focus on those faults. Once you start zeroing in on said faults, it’s pretty hard to switch the focus back to all the things you love about your body. Once you stop focusing on the things you love about your body, it’s pretty hard to stop yourself from connecting “flawed body” to the idea of “flawed person.” After all, it’s your body. Ergo, it starts to (irrationally! not true!) feel like it’s somehow all your fault that it has all these flaws.
I wish it wasn’t this way. But once the train leaves the station… I found it pretty difficult to keep myself propped up on this slippery slope. (Yes. The train left the station and proceeded down a slippery slope. Excellent metaphor mixing, VA… really, subtle work.) I’ve had a lot of moments over the past seven months — especially when the weight loss wasn’t going as smoothly as planned, or I was stressed and angry about something else entirely but decided to project it all onto my midsection, or I was PMS-ing up a storm, so at least once a week all told — where buying into the weight beauty standard felt way too expensive from a pure cost/benefit analysis.
It was too hard to steer clear of the flaw obsession.
I had to keep consciously reminding myself of the things I love about my body because it is my body no matter what size (like my blue eyes, pretty feet and backbending talent) because I’d be way too caught up in the things I don’t love about my body — also no matter what it’s size. Ah! That’s a sneaky little truth: No matter how close I’ve come to matching up to the weight beauty standard in my life, I have always, always nevertheless thought my stomach could be flatter, my triceps could be more toned, my chin could be more defined.
If you’ve got a list like that and you think weight loss will solve it, well… odds are good, twenty or however many pounds from now, that list is going to be just as bullet-pointed and bolded in your mind.
All of this is why I hopped off the “concerted weight loss effort” train sometime around the end of April, even though I lost only ten-ish of the twenty pounds I intended to shed. (Yes, back to the train. I let it roll down the slippery slope without me…oh you get the idea.)
Turns out those ten-ish were enough. They were my sweet spot where the price of the beauty standard (being a little too focused on bathroom scales and stomach bulges, skipping wine on weeknights, constantly calculating portion sizes in my head) wasn’t too high for the rewards (getting back in to some beloved clothes I couldn’t wear last year, feeling more pleased with what I see in the mirror).
I’m sure I could lose those other ten-ish pounds with some more concerted effort. And yes, it would be delightful in some respects — even more of my old clothes would fit, I’d be even more pleased with what I see in the mirror. I actually can’t think of any other specific benefits right now, but I’m sure there are some.
But it would also be really, really not delightful. Because that concerted effort would require more rules about wine and portion size calculations and regular assessments of flaws. And that would mean spending more time feeling sad and deprived and overly focused on flaws and not nearly focused enough on good things. I just wasn’t into that. To quote Kate of Eat the Damn Cake: I don’t hate myself enough to change myself that hard.
Everyone has to do their own pretty price check math, though. And we’re all going to get different numbers on what we want to spend or save. But if there is one thing I’ve learned (from life and also from Extreme Couponing): Never pay retail.
Thoughts for Lauren — and really, all of us? Do you think it’s okay to slim down just because you think it looks better or are you also worried about my train/that slippy slope/insert your overwrought metaphor of choice here?